People who take no precautions training dogs when the mercury rises are the same dim-bulbs who see nothing wrong with driving around town with their dogs in the open bed of a pickup, or with leaving their dog in a parking lot locked in the car with the windows rolled up. That said, information on how to avoid an emergency call to the vet this summer is something sure to be lost on their ilk. Why? Because prevention of this all too common problem is really about using your head when the temperature climbs, and not asking the dog to do anything you wouldn't be willing to do yourself.
Use It or Lose It
Obviously, the best way to avoid heat prostration is to suspend dog training all together during the warmer months. The only trouble with this tactic is that dogs, put on long summertime furloughs, lose their physical and mental edge.
What if you're scrambling, trying to get a new pup ready to hunt by opening day? Crash courses on how to be a bird dog don't exist. Likewise, a simple tune-up a month or two prior to the bird season may be enough to get older dogs back in the groove of obeying commands. But these last minute weekend romps do little to prepare a dog physically for the rigors of hunting.
Check Your Dog. Check Yourself
First, you should cut your dog's food intake during the summer, or switch to a "leaner" kibble. Running around in the field with an extra layer of flab is no good on dogs or humans. And don't feel like you're cheating Old Tubby. Dogs, especially active ones, naturally lose some of their appetite during the hotter months.
- Limit your dog's training schedule to the cooler parts of the day. That means early mornings in most areas. Again, it's all about common sense. If it's so hot and humid outside, that sitting in the shade sipping ice tea seems a torture and strolling down the dusty lane to get the mail seems a chore, it's too hot to train dogs.
- Concentrate on water work. Obviously, this goes for retrievers. But keep in mind that if the training pond you've chosen is warm as bath water, it's not doing anything to cool the dog. For yard and fieldwork, take plenty of time dallying between retrieves. And even on seemingly cool, cloudy August mornings chasing pen-raised pheasants or quail down at the preserve, keep the hunt short and make frequent stops even though you may have to force your dog to do the same.
Sport drinks for working dogs are gaining increasingly popularity with trainers these days. Such dubious concoctions are supposed to replace valuable vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes lost during heavy exertion - the same as those hawked to we humans at the corner convenience store.
But time and time again, we learn that nothing is better for our bodies than old-fashioned H2O. Same for dogs. Water is go-go juice for gun dogs. And it's just plain dangerous, not to mention downright stupid, to expect your dog to train any length of time without an ample supply of it.
Cupped hands make a poor water bowl and squirting water into your thirsty dog's face will have the same effect as a carnival game clown flopping in a dunk tank; more water will land on the ground than in his gullet. You should invest in some sort of travel bowl, or any other portable water source, such as the cool pooch water bottle.
Though you can hardly stop a thirsty dog from lapping up any water it happens upon while training and hunting, it's not a good idea to rely on waterholes you find in the field. A training partner of mine had a dog die, a couple of hours after it lapped up some scummy pond water. The incident occurred while they were out training in a new location one summer day. Algal intoxication was the cause.
Another friend, while coming home from training, stopped at a roadside apple orchard to let the dogs swim and cool down in a tiny pond under the shade. Both retrievers became deathly sick that evening from what was later deemed insecticide poisoning. No doubt, from the bug sprays that had run-off and collected in the pond. A more common problem than poisoning is the contracting of Giardiasis and other waterborne intestinal ailments from contaminated water. Canines are susceptible to these waterborne nasties the same as people, as evidenced by veterinarians' recommendations that dogs be vaccinated for certain intestinal parasites.
Everywhere There Is Sign
Gun dogs, gonzo for bumpers and birds, will gladly run themselves to exhaustion and collapse, which is why it's a good idea to quit training during the summer months, long before your dog shows signs of wanting to. Hot and/or humid weather, over exercise, insufficient water, and poor health are all reasons attributing to heat stroke in canines. It takes more than one factor to exacerbate the condition. And it's your job, as responsible dog owner, to be certain any summer training exercises aren't more than the dog can handle given their level of conditioning.
According to DVM Randy Acker's book Dog First Aid: A Field Guide to Emergency Care for the Outdoor Dog
, symptoms for heat stroke include:
- Rapid, noisy breathing; salivation; possible vomiting
- Dog is comatose, or down and unable to get up
Obviously, if a dog shows any of these signs, stop training immediately and get the dog cooled down as quickly as possible. Get them under a shade tree, inside the air-conditioned cab of your pickup, cover with cold, wet towels, or spray them down with a garden hose. In extreme cases of heat prostration, a dog will not take fluids and will only throw them up anyway if you force them to drink. Symptoms will occur in dogs when their core temperature reaches between 104- and 107-degrees.
Last, after every training session, allow time for your dog to cool down before cramming it back into the kennel for the drive home. Allow free access to water (at the conclusion and all through training) and simply to lounge in the shade until heavy panting ceases and breathing returns somewhat normal levels. Remember: The inside of a car or cramped kennel - even with the windows down -- can be up to 30-degrees hotter than outside.
Before turning to freelancing fulltime, Bob Butz was the managing editor for The Pointing Dog Journal and The Retriever Journal. He writes lifestyle, interview, and sporting articles for numerous publications. Just recently, his by-line has appeared in such publications as Sports Afield, GQ, New York Times, BOOK Magazine, and Land Rover Journal. He teamed up with photographer Lee Kjos to complete the book -- Season's Belle: A Labrador Retriever's First Year -- due out in May 2002 from Silver Quill Press.
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